Author

Douglas Kronaizl

Douglas Kronaizl is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

North Dakota Supreme Court rules on state legislative appointment

After a state Supreme Court ruling last fall, North Dakota Rep. Jeff Delzer (R) remains in office at the start of the legislative session following a primary defeat in 2020.

In North Dakota, each of the state’s 47 districts elects two representatives to the state House. Challengers David Andahl and Dave Nehring defeated Delzer in the 2020 primary election and proceeded to the general election for the district’s two seats.

Delzer’s primary defeat highlighted divisions between the legislator and Gov. Doug Burgum (R). During the 2020 primary election, Burgum donated over $3.1 million to a political action committee opposing Delzer. Burgum and Delzer have disagreed over the state’s budgeting in the past. Burgum, as governor, proposes a budget every two years, but the legislature approves the final budget. Delzer, as chair of the House Appropriations Committee, directs those budgeting proceedings in the House.

These divisions became apparent again following the Nov. 3 general election. Andahl and Nehring won election to the district’s two seats, but Andahl passed away a month before the election, leaving one seat immediately vacant.

Under state law, when a legislative vacancy occurs, the former legislator’s district party can appoint a replacement. Burgum argued that state law was unclear about instances where a candidate dies before the election and argued that he, instead, held appointment authority.
On Nov. 4, Burgum appointed Wade Boesham (R) to the seat. On Nov. 18, the District 8 GOP appointed Delzer. The following week, the North Dakota Supreme Court ruled that state law applied in this case and that the district party held appointment authority.

Delzer and Nehring were sworn in to represent House District 8 on Dec. 1.



Average margin of victory in Pivot Counties has shifted by 25.1 percentage points from Democrats to Republicans since 2008

Ballotpedia is concluding its analysis of Pivot Counties in the 2020 presidential election with a look at the presidential margins of victory in these counties and how they have changed over time.

Pivot Counties are the 206 counties nationwide that voted for Barack Obama (D) in 2008 and 2012 and Donald Trump (R) in 2016.

In 2020, we have used the following categories to describe these counties:

  • Retained Pivot Counties, which voted for Trump again this year, and 
  • Boomerang Pivot Counties, which voted for Joe Biden (D) on Nov. 3.

Following the 2020 presidential election, there were 181 Retained Pivot Counties and 25 Boomerang Pivot Counties.

In 2008, Obama had an average margin of victory of 12.3 percentage points across all 206 of these counties. In 2020, the average result across all Pivot Counties was a win for Trump by a margin of 12.8 percentage points. This represents a shift of 25.1 percentage points towards Republicans.

When looking at just the 181 Retained Pivot Counties, the margin shift from 2008 increases to 26.2 percentage points. Of those 181 counties, Trump won a larger margin of victory in 113 compared to his 2016 results. Trump’s margin decreased in 68 Retained Pivot Counties.

The average margins in the 25 Boomerang Pivot Counties Joe Biden (D) won in 2020 shifted 10.2 percentage points towards Republicans when compared to results from the same counties in 2008.

The chart below shows the overall change in average margins of victory by Pivot County category between 2008 and 2020. 

The table below shows the margins of victory from each presidential election since 2008 using the categories above. The rightmost section shows the total change since 2008 both in percentage points and percent change. In Retained Pivot Counties, the average margin of victory has shifted 217% towards Republicans. In the 25 Boomerang Pivot Counties that voted for Biden, the average margin has shifted 76% towards Republicans.

The Pivot Counties where Trump’s margin of victory increased from 2016 were located primarily in the Southeast and Upper Midwest, concentrated in states like Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Counties where Trump’s margin decreased in 2020 were located primarily in New England and the Northeast.

Woodruff County, Ark., a Retained Pivot County, had the largest margin change towards Trump in 2020 with an 18.8 percentage point shift. Ziebach County, S.D., a Boomerang Pivot County, had the largest margin change towards Biden with a 10.5 percentage point shift.

The map below does not differentiate between Retained and Boomerang Pivot Counties. Instead, it shows counties based on whether their margins of victory became either more Republican, towards Trump, or more Democratic, towards Biden, compared to 2016 results.

To learn more about 2020 presidential election margins of victory in Retained and Boomerang Pivot Counties, click here: Election results, 2020: Pivot Counties’ margins of victory analysis



Partisan control of 20 state executive offices changed in the 2020 elections

Image of donkey and elephant to symbolize the Democratic and Republican parties.

Partisan control of 20 state executive offices changed in the 2020 elections. Republicans gained a net three state executive offices and Democrats lost a net two.

Eleven offices flipped from Democratic to Republican control, while eight offices flipped from Republican to Democratic control, and one office flipped from third party to Democratic control.

The table below shows the direction and totals of these flips.

The 20 offices that changed control were spread across 15 states. There was a net gain for Democrats in eight of those states and a net gain for Republicans in seven. The state with the most Democratic gains was Kansas, where two positions on the state board of education flipped from Republican to Democratic control. The state with the most Republican gains was Michigan, where three members of the state university boards of regents flipped from Democrats to Republicans.

The map below shows states where party flips occurred in 2020. States shaded dark gray saw no change in the party control of the state executive offices up for election in 2020. In the case of Utah, the state began holding partisan elections for offices that were previously nonpartisan. Those elections were excluded from this analysis.

There were four states where partisan control of a top-ballot executive office or an executive board changed as a result of the 2020 elections.

In Montana, Republicans won control of the governorship. U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte (R) defeated Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney (D) for the open office. Incumbent Steve Bullock (D) was term-limited. Republicans maintained their majorities in both chambers of the state legislature, so Gianforte’s win created a Republican trifecta in the state.

In Oregon, Democrats won control of the secretary of state’s office. State Sen. Shemia Fagan (D) defeated state Sen. Kim Thatcher (R) in the November election. Incumbent Bev Clarno (R) did not seek re-election. Because the governor and attorney general were already Democrats, Fagan’s win gave Democrats a triplex in the state.

In Colorado and New Hampshire, control of two state boards changed as a result of the 2020 elections. In Colorado, one position on the state’s board of regents flipped to Democrats, giving the party a 5-4 majority. In New Hampshire, two positions on the Executive Council flipped to Republicans, changing the board’s partisan balance from a 3-2 Democratic majority to a 4-1 Republican majority.

To learn more about state executive office party flips, click here.



Analyzing demographics of the Pivot Counties with highest, lowest turnout in 2020

Two-hundred and six Pivot Counties voted for Barack Obama (D) in 2008 and 2012 and Donald Trump (R) in 2016. In the 2020 presidential election, 181 Retained Pivot Counties voted for Trump again, and 25 Boomerang Pivot Counties voted for Joe Biden (D).

Demographically, Retained Pivot Counties tended to be less populous, with an average population of 62,890 compared to 186,852 for Boomerang Pivot Counties. Retained Pivot Counties also tended to have lower median home values and lower rates of educational attainment when compared to the average Boomerang Pivot County. Both Retained and Boomerang Pivot Counties tended to have a higher-than-average non-Hispanic white population compared to the nationwide percentage.

What does demographic data reveal about Pivot Counties with the highest and lowest rates of voter turnout in 2020?

Of the ten Pivot Counties with the highest voter turnout rates in 2020, eight were Retained Pivot Counties and two were Boomerang Pivot Counties. Turnout rates increased in all of these counties between 2016 and 2020.

Based on 2019 U.S. Census estimates, the ten pivot counties with the highest voter turnout rates in 2020 have a larger percentage white population than the average Pivot County (89.7% versus 85.0%). They also had higher median home values ($220,530 versus $134,148) and higher rates of bachelor degree attainment (24.9% versus 21.0%).

Of the ten Pivot Counties that had the lowest voter turnout in 2020, nine were Retained Pivot Counties and one was a Boomerang Pivot County. Two of these counties—Woodruff and Benson—were the only two Pivot Counties where turnout rates decreased from 2016.

These counties have larger percentage American Indian or Alaska Native populations than the average Pivot County (24.8% versus 3.9%). Three—Benson, Ziebach, and Corson—are located entirely or partly on an Indian reservation. The ten Pivot Counties with the lowest voter turnout rates also had larger percentage Black or African American populations (15.7% versus 7.9%), lower median home values ($81,110 versus $134,148), and higher percentages of persons living in poverty (24.7% versus 14.3%).

Nationwide, the voter turnout rate in the 2020 presidential election was 69.3%, the highest since 1900. Retained Pivot Counties had a total turnout of 67.8%, 1.5 points below the nationwide rate, and Boomerang Pivot Counties had a total turnout of 71.6%, 2.3 points above. Ballotpedia uses voting-age population estimates provided by the U.S. Census to calculate turnout.

For more information about turnout in Retained and Boomerang Pivot Counties, click here.

For more information about the demographics of these counties, click here.



19 states saw at least one party with a net gain of seats in both state legislative chambers

Following the Nov. 3, 2020, elections, there were 19 states where either Democrats, Republicans, or both had a net gain of seats in both the state House and Senate.

Democrats had a net gain in both chambers of six states, seeing their largest net gains in Connecticut, where Democrats picked up a net of six seats in the state House and two in the state Senate. The smallest net gains for Democrats were in Massachusetts and Missouri, with a net gain of three seats across both chambers in each state.

Republicans had a net gain in both chambers of 15 states with their largest in New Hampshire where they gained a net 57 seats in the state House and four in the Senate. Aside from Alaska, where control of the state House had yet to be determined as of Jan. 26, New Hampshire was the only state where control of a legislative chamber changed in the 2020 elections. Both the House and Senate flipped from Democratic to Republican control. The smallest net gains for Republicans were in Missouri and Oregon, with a net gain of one seat in both the House and Senate of each state.

Both Democrats and Republicans had net gains in Missouri and Vermont due to flipping seats that were either previously held by third party legislators or winning seats that were vacant at the time of the election.

The map below shows those states where one party had net gains in both state legislative chambers shaded red, blue, or purple to indicate party gains.

The table below lists these states and the net gains made by each party in both state legislative chambers. Democratic gains are shown on the left. Republican gains are shown on the right.

Across all chambers that held regular state legislative elections in 2020, Democrats had a net loss of 114 seats, Republicans had a net gain of 175, and third parties had a net loss of 14.

To learn more about these chambers and the number of legislators by party following the 2020 election, click here.



Decade-low 227 state legislative incumbents defeated on Nov. 3

In the November 2020 general election, 227 state legislative incumbents were defeated, the lowest number in any even-numbered year in the past decade. By party, those defeated incumbents include 165 Democrats, 52 Republicans, and 10 independents and members of a third party.

The 227 incumbents defeated marked a 29.5% decrease from the 322 defeated in 2018 and was 54.8% lower than the decade-high 502 incumbents defeated in the 2010 general election.

By party, a larger number of Democrats were defeated in the 2020 general election compared to Republicans. This was the fourth cycle since 2010 where the number of incumbent Democrats defeated exceeded that of Republicans. The number of incumbent Republicans defeated in general elections exceeded Democrats’ in the 2012 and 2018 state legislative elections.

The chart below shows the number of incumbents defeated in general elections since 2010 broken down by party affiliation.

Incumbents defeated in the general election represent one part of Ballotpedia’s calculation of total incumbent turnover, which measures the number of seats that will be held by newcomers in 2021. The other components of the calculation are incumbents defeated in primaries and incumbents who retired.

Incumbent turnover in 2020 reached a decade-low 1,247, meaning, overall, state legislatures will see the lowest number of newcomers since before 2010.

By party, incumbent turnover was 621 for Democrats and 626 for Republicans, the smallest gap between the two parties over the preceding decade. A greater number of Republicans were defeated in primaries than Democrats. Both Democrats and Republicans saw their lowest numbers of retirement since at least 2010 at 396 and 480, respectively.

The table below shows turnover figures from 2010 to 2020. The rightmost column shows the decade average for each metric.

For additional analyses and a full list of defeated incumbents, click here.



A closer look at turnout in Georgia’s statewide runoff elections

Although most of the nation’s focus during the Jan. 5 Georgia runoffs was on the two U.S. Senate seats, there was one other runoff that didn’t receive as much attention. Voters in Georgia also decided the District 4 race for the state Public Utilities Commission (PSC), which resulted in a first for the Peach State. 

Incumbent Bubba McDonald (R) defeated challenger Daniel Blackman (D). McDonald’s victory in the 2020 runoffs marks the first time that both a Democrat and Republican have won in the same statewide runoff election in Georgia. In the two U. S. Senate runoffs, Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff each won.

McDonald received the most votes of any Republican candidate in the runoffs, whereas his opponent, Blackman, received the fewest votes of any Democratic candidate.

Unlike previous runoffs, the PSC runoff in 2020 also had the greatest level of parity compared to the U.S. Senate runoffs. Compared to the previous years where both positions advanced to a runoff (1992 and 2008), the overall turnout in the 2020 PSC runoff was 49,257 votes (1.1%) less than the highest-turnout U.S. Senate race. Historically, runoff elections for PSC have had a lower turnout than those for the Senate when the two appear on the same ballot. 

To learn more about the PSC election, click here.

To learn more about the two U.S. Senate runoffs, click here.



315 state legislative seats flipped partisan control in the November 2020 elections

On Nov. 3, 2020, 5,875 state legislative seats were up for regularly scheduled elections across 86 of the nation’s 99 state legislative chambers. As a result of the election, control of 315 seats flipped from one party to another.

Republicans gained a net 141 seats, Democrats lost a net 133 seats, and independent and third party candidates lost a net eight seats. At least one seat flipped parties in every state holding regularly scheduled state legislative elections except Hawaii.

Of the 315 seats that changed party control, 215 (68.3%) were Democratic seats that went to Republicans. Seventy-eight (24.8%) were Republican seats that went to Democrats.

The table below shows the total number of state legislative seats that flipped partisan control during the 2020 state legislative elections. Columns show the number of seats that flipped to the given partisan affiliation listed in the top row. Rows show the number of seats that flipped from the given partisan affiliation listed in the leftmost column.

There was a 38% decrease in flipped state legislative seats compared to 2018, which saw 508 flips. Democrats flipped 80% fewer seats from Republicans in 2020 compared to 2018. Republicans saw a 131.2% increase in flipped Democratic seats. The table below shows the total number of flipped seats in both years and the number of seats flipped between major parties.

Fifty seats flipped party control in New Hampshire, the most of any state. Forty-nine of those seats flipped to Republicans—48 from Democrats and one from a Libertarian. One seat flipped from Republican to Democrat. As a result, both chambers of the New Hampshire General Court changed from Democratic to Republican control.

The map below shows states shaded to reflect the number of seats that changed party control in 2020. Darker shades indicate a larger number of flips. States shown in gray did not hold regularly scheduled state legislative elections in 2020.

To see more analysis and the full list of state legislative seats that flipped partisan control following the 2020 elections: Election results, 2020: State legislative seats that changed party control, Overview



Biden wins all six Reverse-Pivot Counties that voted McCain-Romney-Clinton

Following the 2016 presidential election, Ballotpedia identified six Reverse-Pivot Counties that voted for Hillary Clinton (D) in 2016 after voting for John McCain (R) in 2008 and Mitt Romney (R) in 2012. 

All six of 2016’s Reverse-Pivot Counties voted for Biden in 2020.

These counties have a median population of 785,915. Voters there cast 4,015,613 ballots, representing 2.5% of all votes cast in the 2020 presidential election. All six are located in or near major metropolitan areas: Los Angeles, Atlanta, Baltimore, and Houston.

As of Dec. 11, Joe Biden (D) won all six of 2016’s Reverse-Pivot Counties by an average margin of 14.54 percentage points, roughly triple Clinton’s average margin of 4.96 in 2016.

The shift represents a continuing trend in these counties from supporting Republican presidential candidates towards supporting Democrats. Since 2008, when McCain won these counties, margins of victory have shifted 20.18 percentage points from Republicans to Democrats, on average.



A closer look at voter turnout in Retained and Boomerang Pivot counties

Ballotpedia has been analyzing the 206 Pivot Counties that voted for Barack Obama (D) in 2008 and 2012 and Donald Trump (R) in 2016. This year, we have introduced two new categories: Retained Pivot Counties, which voted for Trump again in 2020, and Boomerang Pivot Counties, which voted for Joe Biden (D).

Based on unofficial results that are subject to change, Ballotpedia has identified 181 Retained Pivot Counties and 25 Boomerang Pivot Counties.

Voter turnout in these counties has increased compared to 2016.

Nationwide, voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election was the highest since 1900 at 69.25%. Retained Pivot Counties had a total turnout of 67.81%, 1.44 percentage points below the nationwide rate, and Boomerang Pivot Counties had a total turnout of 71.64%, 2.39 percentage points above the national rate.

The 2020 presidential election saw a continuation of the trend where turnout in Boomerang Pivot Counties exceeds that in Retained Pivot Counties. In 2020, the total turnout in Boomerang Pivot Counties was 3.83 percentage points higher than the turnout in Retained Pivot Counties. Since 2008, the total turnout in Boomerang Pivot Counties has exceeded that in Retained Pivot Counties by an average of 3.95 percentage points.

Seventy-nine percent of Retained Pivot Counties (143) and 76% of Boomerang Pivot Counties (19) recorded their highest turnouts since at least 2008.

Nationwide, voter turnout increased by 8.21 percentage points compared to 2016. All Retained Pivot Counties except for two—Woodruff County, Arkansas, and Benson County, North Dakota—saw increases in voter turnout compared to 2016. Voter turnout increased in every Boomerang Pivot County.

The table below shows the ten Pivot Counties with the largest increases in voter turnout compared to 2016. Of the ten, nine are in states that automatically sent absentee/mail-in ballots to voters during the presidential election. Colorado, Oregon, and Washington routinely conduct all-mail elections. New Jersey conducted its 2020 presidential election by mail in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Retained Pivot Counties are shown with red dots and Boomerang Pivot Counties with blue dots.